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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was not yet aware a $10.5-million payment to Omar Khadr had been finalized when news of the settlement leaked to the media in the summer of 2017, an internal report shows — suggesting one explanation for why the government launched a wide-ranging hunt for the source of the leak.
The Prime Minister’s Office told the National Post Trudeau had authorized the general terms of the settlement ahead of time, including the dollar amount. But when the story appeared in the media Trudeau was travelling overseas and had not been told the settlement was signed, according to an internal report produced by Public Services and Procurement Canada, one of the departments asked to search for the source of the leak, and obtained by the Post via an access-to-information request.
The Globe and Mail first reported the Khadr settlement on the evening of Monday, July 3, just after Trudeau had arrived in Ireland for a visit ahead of the G20 meeting in Germany. The Globe’s story said the government was going to issue an apology and a settlement to Khadr later that week.
“This surprised the political establishment as the Prime Minister was in Europe and was not yet informed of the decision, according to PCO,” says the report. PCO refers to the Privy Council Office, the federal department that supports the prime minister and the cabinet.
Khadr had been pursuing a lawsuit against the Canadian government since 2004, and in 2013 he moved to significantly expand it and sought $20 million in damages. The Supreme Court of Canada has consistently ruled that Khadr’s constitutional rights were violated over his decade-long American detention in Guantanamo Bay and the participation of Canadian security services in interrogating him.
The PSPC report says “government officials ratified a settlement agreement with Mr. Khadr” on June 22, 2017. “This information was confidential, tightly controlled and was not to be announced until later in July 2017,” it says.
The report says public servants had just begun working on a communications strategy when news of the settlement leaked. Emails obtained by the Post under a separate access-to-information request show public servants from Global Affairs Canada and Public Safety Canada exchanging emails about a draft statement on the Khadr settlement on June 30, 2017.
The report’s account that Trudeau had not yet been informed about the settlement’s conclusion is corroborated by an interview given by Trudeau’s then-principal secretary at the time, Gerald Butts, to National Post columnist John Ivison for his forthcoming book Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister.
“We found out about it during a State dinner in Dublin when the story broke…We were supposed to be brought into the loop two weeks later,” Butts says in the book, scheduled for release on Aug. 13. “But we wouldn’t have stopped it. The basic facts are the government of Canada allowed a Canadian citizen to be tortured in Guantanamo.”
The Prime Minister’s Office told the Post in a statement that it knew about the settlement but was surprised by the leak because the process was not fully concluded.
“We were aware of the settlement,” says the statement from spokesperson Eleanore Catenaro. “The Prime Minister and other Ministers were involved given this was a civil litigation matter that included a public apology and the transfer of government funds. The government was surprised by the July 3, 2017 leak, at which time the finalization of the settlement and apology had not been fully concluded or publicly announced.”
Public servants attempted to transfer the $10.5-million in settlement money on the morning of July 4, less than a day after the story leaked. But due to a wrongly-entered code in the government’s payment system, banking errors caused the actual transfer of funds to be delayed until July 5.
Under the Liberal government, the two cabinet ministers responsible for handling Khadr’s lawsuit were Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (and her predecessor before January 2017, Stephane Dion). There was also a cabinet committee on litigation management chaired by Dominic LeBlanc that likely would have discussed the lawsuit. That committee was disbanded in August 2018.
However, a source in the Prime Minister’s Office who spoke on the condition they not be named said the payment of money also had to be authorized directly by Trudeau, as well as Finance Minister Bill Morneau, because it was a funding request taking place outside the usual budget reporting process.
Following the leak, the Privy Council Office identified six departments and agencies that may have been the source — including those who worked on the communications strategy — and asked each one to determine whether the leak may have come from its employees.
The report obtained by the Post came from the special investigations and internal disclosure directorate of Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), the department which processed the transfer of funds to Khadr. The report concluded 30 PSPC employees had information about the payment, but their involvement only came after the initial leak came out — and even then, the employees never had enough specific information to have been the source of the leak.
“The facts gathered in this review were shared with (Privy Council Office) which confirmed on September 15, 2017, that the PSPC is no longer within the scope of the review into this matter,” the report says. “PCO continues to move with other Departements (sic) in its attempt to identify the source of the leak.”
In a statement to the Post last week, the Privy Council Office declined to say whether it ever found the source of the leak, whether it ever called in the RCMP to investigate, or whether any government employees were disciplined or terminated over the leak.
The official apology and formal announcement of Khadr’s settlement took place on Friday, July 7, following days of media coverage over the leaked settlement. An email sent later that day by Public Safety Canada’s director of public affairs to other public servants indicated the announcement had been rushed forward, likely following the media reports.
“I want to express a huge thank you to everyone involved in supporting the Khadr event, which was sprung on us just two days ago,” the email said.
“Now let’s hope for no more surprises, at least through the weekend…”
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